Chemicals in Cigarette Filters

Written by greg mcguire
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Chemicals in Cigarette Filters
Cigarette filters take more than 10 years to break down and contain many harmful chemicals. (Cigarette butt in the ashtray, unhealthy lifestyle concept image by JoLin from

Cigarette filters are designed to not only keep tobacco flakes from entering a smoker's mouth but also to reduce the amount of tar and other fine particles from reaching the lungs. They also reduce the harshness of the smoke. However, the filters are mainly made of synthetics and are very harmful to the environment. Although its purpose is to absorb some of the harmful chemicals of tobacco smoke, a filter has its own chemicals that affect smokers and the environment.

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Filter Plastics

Filters are 95 per cent thin plastic threads (cellulose acetate) wound together to create a cotton-like filter. These filters consist of many Y-shaped fibres intertwined that contain the delustrant titanium dioxide and more acetate. Triacetin (glycerol triacetate) and polythene are applied to bond the fibres and create the filter. Cigarette companies have tried to replace acetate but smokers prefer the taste the acetate filter produces.

Filter Paper

The cellulose acetate serves as a filter plug, with polyvinyl acetate emulsion used as a glue to attach the plug to the wrapper. The wrapper paper does not allow any air to penetrate it in regular cigarettes and is slightly ventilated to allow some air in “light” cigarettes. The paper on the outside of the filter is made to not stick to smokers' lips. Some cigarettes, like Parliament, also use charcoal as a filtering agent to add to the smoothness of the cigarette and create a more desirable ash colour.


When smokers do not discard cigarette butts properly, the butts can end up in our water systems, where they pollute the water by leaking out the toxins they were designed to collect. Cigarette butts (discarded filters) represent 30 per cent of the waste found on American shorelines and waterways. Chemicals such as nicotine, benzene and cadmium slowly leak out of filters long after people have discarded them. It takes from 10 to 15 years for filter fibres to break down; during this time the dangerous chemicals permeate the environment.

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